I have read a bit of young adult (YA) fiction in my life, more that I remember since I’ve been an adult than a young adult. Most of my exposure to YA is vicariously through my students. Every year, my grade 10 English students must pick a YA novel and write two reading journals (retell, reflect and relate), a newspaper article about a significant event in the novel and do a literary analysis presentation on it. I learn a lot about YA novels and themes from them. Since I’ve decided to try and write the next great North American YA novel, I’ve made a concerted effort to read more YA. I have to say, so far, my choices haven’t impressed me.
The last YA novel I attempted (unsuccessfully as I didn’t finish) to read was Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. The reasons I chose this book were because I remember seeing the trailers for the movie in the theatre and it looked interesting, and honestly, because it was free at the Kobo bookstore. The preview seemed interesting, and so I downloaded.
In Beautiful Creatures, Ethan Wate befriends new student Lena Duchannes at school. He finds himself attracted to her, primarily because she’s different from the other girls and he’s intrigued by the strange things that seem to happen around her. When a window breaks near her and without her touching it, Ethan goes to her home to check on her and winds up befriending her. Their friendship soon turns into a romance. Lena and Ethan find they have been dreaming about each other and they are able to communicate by thinking to each other. Ethan soon learns Lena is a caster. She is about to turn sixteen and her powers are beginning to manifest, though she cannot always control them. On her sixteenth birthday—many months into the future from the start of the book—she will be claimed, either by light or dark and her life will change. Her greatest fear is she will be claimed by the dark and turn into an evil caster like her cousin and her mother.
To its credit, Beautiful Creatures uses great allusions that many teens will recognize. Lena’s reclusive uncle is compared to Boo Radley of To Kill a Mockingbird fame. He even owns a dog whose name is Boo Radley that follows the couple around throughout the book. There are also comparisons to Gone with the Wind that I understood, but might be over most teens’ heads, unless they grew up in the American south. There were sections of the book which made me second guess my giving up, but these always gave way to slower narrative and focus on Ethan and Lena’s connection which seemed forced at times. Also, romance just isn’t my bag; I felt the concentration on teen angst and romantic insecurity too soupy for my liking at times.
Once Ethan meets Lena, the book reminded me too much of Twilight. In Twilight, Bella lives in a small, boring town and meets Edward with whom she’s forced to work in class. When Edward saves Bella from certain death in a strange feat of strength, she feels a connection to him, thus beginning their relationship. In Beautiful Creatures, Ethan lives in a small, boring town and meets Lena with whom he chooses to work in class when no one else wants to. When Ethan witnesses Lena exert a feat of mental strength, he feels a connection to her, thus beginning their relationship. Also, I felt that the novel begins too much in advance of Lena’s transformation. The reader must slog through six months of Lena’s angst around being claimed, which is too much anticipation. Lastly, the parameters of Lena’s abilities are too wishy-washy. Other casters’ abilities are specific; they can do one thing. Lena seems to be able to do more than most casters, which makes it seem like the authors invented her abilities as they needed them to advance the plot. I found myself often frustrated as I tried to figure out the parameters of magic in the Beautiful Creatures world.
If you are a young girl looking for a supernatural romance, I think you might enjoy this novel, especially if you liked Twilight (which I didn’t). For an adult not interested in romance, but rather, in great literature with clear cut rules governing the science and magic of the fictional world in which to immerse yourself for a few hours, Beautiful Creatures is not for you.
Graphic from: http://books.google.ca/books/about/Beautiful_Creatures.html?id=hTE6xarZsk8C&redir_esc=y
About the Author
Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.
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